The Swiss maestro has a bulging Melbourne CV, but can a new racquet, a different lead-in and a legendary coach propel him past the semifinal stage this year?By Darren Saligari | Friday, 24 January, 2014
Melbourne holds few secrets for Roger Federer.
He has won more matches at the Australian Open, 70 and counting, than anybody else in history, male or female. As for titles – he's got four of 'em, and counting if he has his way. His first came 10 years ago, since then he has added three more in 2006, 2007 and 2010.
He hasn't won here for three years, but he hasn't been far off the mark. Three consecutive semifinals that have ended at the hands of his fellow Big 4 members: Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray.
Not surprisingly, two of those players feature in Federer’s quest for title number five. Having overcome Murray in the quarters, he now faces Nadal in the semis, resuming a rivalry in which he trails 10-22 in their head-to-heads.
So after being stopped in the semis for the past three years, what can Federer do to arrest this situation? Well, the 32-year-old has made some changes to his schedule, equipment and team that he hopes will give him that extra edge that he used to hold over the rest of the competition.
First up, he changed his schedule, opting to play in Brisbane where the courts are the same and climate is similar. He's also changed his racquet, moving to a larger frame (98 inches compared with 95 inches), and then there's the not insignificant addition of tennis legend Stefan Edberg to his team.
"Obviously he was a role model for me growing up, the way he conducted himself on the court, away from the court, in the press room," Federer explained.
"I learned a lot from him, and it's nice to have him in my corner and be able to just speak to him and be inspired by, you know, what he says about the game today and about how it used to be for him."
Edberg joins long-time Federer confidant Severin Luthi on a part-time basis; Melbourne is the new team's first test.
Seeded sixth here, it's the lowest Federer has been seeded since 2003 when he was also seeded sixth (and lost in fourth round to David Nalbandian) and 2002, when he was 12th.
It's a situation that Federer says does remove some of the pressure and expectation that he will go all the way.
"I definitely have less pressure this year, less to lose. I'm not the defending champion or any of that.
"So, yeah, I should be able to play more freely, and other guys are supposed to make their move or defend again, all these things. So, things are maybe a little bit more comfortable this year around."
And with that weight of expectation off his shoulders and a few tweaks, perhaps the former No.1 can conquer Melbourne once more.